Utah escape/escapades – Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point

Several of my more recent posts have been about moving, because, well, we’re moving. Specifically, we’re moving to Tucson, AZ, in a little over a week. As I write this post, I am surrounded by boxes, and my sinuses are irritated by all the dust I’ve stirred up while packing and cleaning. I’m excited about this move and my new job (which I start on Monday–yikes!), but even though I see this move as a big positive, it’s still stressful. There are a thousand little details to keep track of and so, so much work to do.

This will be our third big move in a little over a decade, and one of the lessons we’ve learned is to plan a break before the last big push to get everything done. We took that break last week–a road trip north to Bryce Canyon in Utah. The trip was short, only two nights, but it was the refresher we needed.

The Grand Staircase Inn in Cannonville, base camp for our adventures:

I spent each morning sitting outside the door of our room, journaling and contemplating a sequel to Vanishing, Inc. And eating Frosted Mini-Wheats straight out of the box with my bare hands (because I’m a classy broad) and washing them down with Diet Coke and befriending an adorable kitty who had perfected the art of scamming food off tourists (I might or might not have given the little dude the remains of my pulled pork lunch. I please the 5th.) And for those who are worried about a pitiful stray, this guy was fixed and looked perfectly healthy–lovely fur, a healthy weight, etc. I suspect he lived at the Air BnB across the street but had learned that motel denizens are suckers good food sources.

After driving all afternoon, evening and staying the night, we spent last Friday exploring Bryce Canyon. My husband is recovering from knee surgery, so we mostly explored by car.

View from Sunset Point:

I think this one may have been taken from Bryce Point. Not sure – should have kept better notes.

Natural Bridge:

Overly friendly raven at Agua Canyon:

And the view from the Agua Canyon viewpoint:

Hoodoos, caves, and a soaring raven at Rainbow Point:

We took one short hike up to Mossy Cave. It provides a great view looking up rather than down at hoodoos.

And here’s Mossy Cave:

It’s hard to find words to describe Bryce Canyon, but “otherworldly” probably comes closest. It’s a landscape that would seem more at home in a sci-fi movie than here in our everyday world. It also reminds me a bit of an outdoor version of cave formations. So, so lovely.

Stay tuned for the next (and probably last) installment of my Utah adventures, in which we will visit Red Canyon and Cedar Breaks National Monument. For now, I have to get back to packing. 9 more days…

#FOTD: Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (Cleome serrulata)

Like a lot of us still in quarantine, I’ve been trying to get out for walks throughout the day. I walk early in the morning, which is a great time to snap pictures of some of our local wildflowers. Today’s post is the second in what I’m going to optimistically call a series for Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge, featuring some of the native flora in my rural Flagstaff neighborhood. Today’s entry is our native cleome, Cleome serrulata, also called Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. Like the sacred datura (Datura wrightii) I featured in my last #FOTD post, this plant is both beautiful and kinda ugly. The plant itself is scraggly, but up close or massed in a field, it’s stunning. They sprout in random places in my garden, and I usually let them stay, because they’re low maintenance, the flowers are lovely, and the bees love ’em (Hey, it says so right in the name. Do you think they’d call it Rocky Mountain BEE Plant if the bees hated it? Would plant people lie to you?).

This year I have a few growing in my pumpkin patch. They look wonderfully rustic alongside the pumpkin vines and sunflowers. Some years they form huge masses in open fields around here. I’ve been thinking about gathering seed and sowing it in my pasture, so I can have my own pink and purple field.

#FOTD: Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)

I’ve been snapping photos for  Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge for the last two weeks or so, but I keep forgetting about a key step in the process: posting them. D’oh! On the upside: that means I have a backlog that should net me at least a few days of quick and easy posts, which is a good thing, because life is a little, um, *full* right now.

Today’s flower is a wildflower/weed (depends on your perspective) here in Flagstaff. Datura wrightii or sacred datura is a member of the nightshade family, quite poisonous, drought tolerant, a hallucinogenic, almost impossible to kill–and both beautiful and ugly. As I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve struggled every year to keep a garden alive in the middle of a volcano field at 7000′ elevation, I’ve learned to appreciate plants that grow and bring a little beauty without much fuss and without becoming Purina Grasshopper Chow (don’t get me started on the grasshoppers up here in my little mountain paradise. Seriously, don’t. I’m trying to cut down on my use of profanity.).

Grasshoppers don’t bother datura. Nothing bothers datura–except maybe the occasional genius who decides they want a free hallucinogen and instead gets a taxpayer-funded slab at the county morgue. That hasn’t been an issue around here–at least not as far as I know, and I’d probably notice a corpse in my flower garden. Knowing me, I’d probably trip over it and land face-first in the datura.

Pro tip of the day: don’t eat the datura.

Anyway, I’ve developed quite a fondness for this plant. The leaves are ugly as heck, but the flowers… oh, the flowers. They bloom at night and are still open in the early morning, which is when I snapped this picture. Pollinators love them too, typically sphinx/hummingbird moths but also bees during the few hours when the bees are out and the flowers are open. Look in the top blossom, and you’ll see a happy little honeybee. Here’s another picture of him. Isn’t he cute?

Those of you who are gardeners will know that sphinx moth larvae have another name: tomato hornworm. Plant some datura, and you’ll have a great solution to your hornworm problem. First, the hornworms seem to prefer datura to tomatoes, so it’s a good trap crop. Second, if you find a hornworm pillaging your future marinara, you can relocate him to your datura. He survives to become a super cool sphinx moth, and your tomatoes survive to decorate your pasta. Everybody wins!

#FOTD: Nymphaea ‘Perry’s Almost Black’

To get me back in the habit of noticing the beauty that surrounds me, I’m trying Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge. I won’t really post every day, but when something pretty is blooming, I’ll share. This is the first water lily I bought for our pond, ‘Perry’s Almost Black.’ It’s a hardy one–it’s survived three Flagstaff winters and come back bigger every spring. I took this picture with my iPhone around mid-morning, so the sun washed out some of the color. It’s actually quite a bit darker than it looks, though certainly not “almost black” (people who name cultivars lie almost as much as politicians).

What’s blooming in your garden this week?

Photo safari through a historic Flagstaff neighborhood

2020-04-24 12.10.15.jpgMy first novel, Vanishing, Inc., is set in a fictional mountain town in Arizona called Ponderosa. I live in Flagstaff, a not-so-fictional mountain town in Arizona that makes an appearance in my story, but since I’m writing a paranormal romance (a time travel romance, to be specific), I wanted the freedom of a fictional setting. I don’t want some overly-literal reader leaving me a one-star review because there are, in fact, no time portals in Flagstaff.

Hey, you know it could happen. I’m sure plenty of tourists have walked through standing stones in Scotland and become very grumpy because they did not immediately find themselves in the arms of a lusty Scottish outlaw. BTW, how cheap are airline tickets to Scotland these days? Asking for a friend…

But I digress.

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah–Ponderosa, Arizona, which exists only in my manuscript. But you’ll love it, I promise. Especially since it involves a lusty Arizona outlaw.

It also involves the unique landscape of the Northern Arizona mountains, which I’ve been lucky enough to call home for the last 6 years. Now that my world has shrunk to the size of my yard (thanks, Microbe that Must not be Named), my explorations have been a bit limited. But last week I got to take a trip! Go on a journey! Where did I go, you ask?

I took my husband to the dentist.

It’s a thrill a minute around here, I tell ya.

His dentist’s office is in one of Flagstaff’s historic neighborhoods, so I took myself on a mini photo safari while he got his tooth fixed. The primary setting in Vanishing, Inc. is a stone cottage built in 1890, so I paid particular attention to old stone houses. Like this one:

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I’ve been fascinated by stone houses since I was a kid. I suppose they remind me of the fairy tales I read over and over in elementary school. We have a lot of rocks around here, so old stone houses are fairly common,  but I still find them magical. Look at that texture! At the contrast of textures! And can’t you just picture that house with a time portal in the basement? C’mon, use your imagination…

Take away the modern windows and modern roof, and this one would make a great location for a time portal:

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I love how the stone makes the house fit into the landscape like it’s always been there.

Besides writing, I’m obsessed with gardening, so I took lots of pictures of plants and yards, especially where there were contrasting textures. Like this:

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And this:

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And my favorite picture of the day. Look at that wonderful old stone wall! and those red buds popping out of the shade! I can picture my main character stumbling over that wall in 1910, on her way to even more trouble.

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And it’s spring, so I couldn’t resist the flowers. Here’s forsythia:

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And sand cherry blossoms:

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trek into my world, both real and fictional. I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful, magical place, but beauty and magic can be found anywhere. I hope you’ll take the time to find some of your own.

O is for Outside (#AtoZChallenge)

O2020After four weeks of quarantine, I’ve learned a bit about what helps keep me mentally healthy in lockdown, and exactly none of it is a surprise: adequate sleep, nutritious food (apparently woman does not live by Doritos alone, though heaven knows I’ve tried), meaningful work, exercise, and fresh air. Spring in Flagstaff is wind season, so getting outside without being blown into the next ZIP code is challenging. Usually the best opportunity is before nine AM, which is why I’ve been outside gardening at 7 AM. Yes, I know that is sick and wrong, but one does what one must.

I could write a long, not-so-eloquent essay on the beauty of nature and the spirituality of watching the garden come back to life after its winter sleep, but really, that’s been done way too many times by writers way more talented than I am. Instead, I’ll post a few pictures to share the beauty of my surroundings with you. It’s still early spring here, so there’s nothing too dramatic happening outside (except for the occasional gale-force winds), but the beauty is in the details.

In my last post, I talked about how life in quarantine is like seeing the world through a macro lens. Here’s what my macro lens (OK, the macro lens on my Nikon glorified point and shoot) captured over the weekend:

Apple blossoms

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Peach blossoms

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Daffodils

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In twenty or thirty years, when the young ‘uns ask me how we survived being stuck at home for so long, I’ll tell them I looked for beauty in the small things all around me.

Noticing

2020-03-22 12.01.54.jpgAs it has for many of us, my world has grown smaller in the last few weeks. We aren’t under a shelter in place order here in Arizona (yet), but the number of coronavirus cases is rising rapidly, and most public facilities are either closed or restricted.

Like most Gen-Xers, I’m good at entertaining myself. I also know how to cook, and I enjoy time at home, away from people. But still, having to be home for an extended period of time can get monotonous, even for an introverted librarian/writer like me. And so I’m consciously looking for ways to improve the experience.

Sunday afternoon, my husband and I took a walk in the Coconino National Forest near our home. We lingered in the woods, taking pictures of interesting tree trunks, 2020-03-22 12.04.25.jpg

smelling the sharp scent of Ponderosa pine, and admiring the patterns of lichen on boulders.

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We admired a baby pine sprouting beside a stump, life from death, the promise of hope and rebirth in this strange, dark time.

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We spent way too much time studying a mysterious glob of melted plastic, likely a remnant of the 2010 forest fire, the scars of which still mar these mountains nearly a decade after the fact.

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We discovered a tiny cactus peeking through the pine needles on the forest floor.

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In other words, we noticed things.

Little things. Unglamorous things. Things we’d normally cruise right past with little more than a passing glance–if we looked at them at all. But our world is smaller now, and the pace of our lives has slowed to a crawl. There’s time now to see, to take in, to notice.

Many years ago, I signed up for a drawing class at a community college. I’d never been able to draw even a decent-looking stick figure, but I let myself be talked into taking a drawing class.

I plead temporary insanity.

On the first night, the professor heard me whine, “I can’t draw!” He came up to me, studied me with crinkled, professorial eyes, and informed me of the following:

“Your problem isn’t that you don’t know how to draw. It’s that you don’t know how to see.”

He had us draw our own closed fist. And I found myself studying the details of my own hand, the lines, the curves, the creases and whorls, and reproducing them on a page in a sketch pad. The result would win no prizes in an art show, but it was recognizably a hand.

I had drawn a hand. A real hand.

My hand.

With my own hand.

That old professor had been right. Sort of. I knew how to see, but I’d never taken the time to notice. To really look at something in its minute detail. To shut out all the distractions and busy-ness of the world and focus on a single, simple thing and see the magic in it.

I’ve carried that lesson with me these last thirty-some years. Oh, I forget it often enough. I let busy-ness crowd out magic, I run on the hamster wheel of life and berate myself for not doing more, better, faster. Work more, write more, make more money, do more laundry, why is the house such a mess and the garden full of weeds and my body out of shape and…

Yeah.

Hard to make room for magic in all that doing.

But on Sunday I made room for that magic. Amid the fear and the disruption and the absurd shortage of toilet paper, I made room for magic. For wonder. For joy.

I took the time to notice–and found healing and peace in that noticing.

Winter break road trip episode 5 (the final chapter): Albuquerque and Grants, NM

2019-12-30 11.22.12.jpgWe last left our intrepid blogger in a snowy desert just outside Carrizozo, New Mexico, looking for a post-apocalyptic Denzel Washington. Spoiler alert: we didn’t find him. So we drove on, passing through Albuquerque on our way to Grants. While in Albuquerque, we had to feed the husband’s other cinematic obsession, Breaking Bad, with a stop at Walter White’s house:

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Apparently the owner of the house is not fond of its TV-generated fame. According to various reviews (including on Trip Advisor), she sits on a folding chair in her garage and yells at people who take pictures. The chair in the garage was empty when we visited, and we stayed a respectful distance away while taking pictures, so we managed to avoid any confrontations.

After that brief detour, we decided to drive on to Grants. Grants is a small town on I40 near the Arizona border. There are quite a few things to do in Grants, but even after a good night’s sleep, we were too tired and too ready to go home to do very much. So, we limited ourselves to one attraction: El Malpais National Monument. El Malpais is best known for volcanic features–a lava flow, lava tubes, and a cinder cone–but we spent most of our time on the sandstone bluffs right off the main road through the park. The ranger I chatted with told me it’s usually windy on the bluffs, but the morning we visited was almost perfectly still.

We spent quite a bit of time out on the rocks, taking in the view, the colors, the textures, and the stillness. 2019-12-30 11.30.52.jpg

Pools of ice in the rocks made for an almost eerie effect:

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This is one of my favorites: wind-sculpted rock, ice pools… just so perfect.

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Who let these two weirdos in?

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I have no idea how a tree can grow in nothing more than a crevice in a rock. Junipers are tough!

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And finally: a USGS marker from 1949, hammered into the rock.

US Geological Survey marker, 1949

For me, travel is all about serendipity and surprise: discovering the small town I never knew existed (because a snow storm stranded us there), sitting on a sandstone bluff on a cool, still winter morning, talking with a ranger whose life has taken him all over the Western US, or maybe watching the sun set over a moonscape in a missile range. Whether you travel ten minutes on foot or ten hours on a plane, stop and experience the details and the ambiance. Notice the USGS marker hammered into the rock. Sit on the bluff on a still morning and listen to the sounds of the desert. Smell the smells, touch the textures, taste the food and the air. Let the sense of a place fill you. If you can do those things, even a walk around the block can be magical.

We returned to Flagstaff later that day, December 30, tired but refreshed. 2019 was a hard year for us, and 2020 will have (and has already had) its challenges. Those few days wandering in the desert helped fill the well, helped restore our strength and perspective to face each new challenge and to live each new moment to the fullest.

A very belated Happy New Year! May you find rest and restoration wherever you can.

Winter Break road trip episode 4: Serendipity in Carrizozo

2019-12-29 10.10.13.jpgAt the end of the last episode, Winter Break road trip episode 3: Roswell, NM, your intrepid blogger had spent the day getting her picture taken with little green men and stuffing her face with Mexican food (note: your intrepid blogger spends lots of time stuffing her face with Mexican food).

We left Roswell about an hour before dark, a fact which shall become important momentarily, headed in the general direction of Albuquerque. Let’s drive awhile, we said. We aren’t tired, we don’t have reservations, let’s see how far we get. Note: if someone says this to you when you’re in the middle of the desert at dusk, kill them, take the wheel, and spend the night at the nearest motel. If you don’t, you might just find yourself sliding down a two-lane highway, in the dark, in a freak snowstorm, in a car without snow tires or chains, in a remote section of New Mexico populated by little more than oryx and buzzards. Note: ask not for whom the buzzard circles; it circles for thee.

But I digress.

We slid into Carrizozo–literally–and got the last room in what appeared to be the only motel in town. It was dark and cold and snowy, so we huddled up for warmth and contemplated being stranded in a tiny New Mexican town for who-knew-how-long until the snow melted. I’m pretty sure the phrase, “zombie apocalypse,” entered the conversation at least twice. But–spoiler alert–we were not eaten by zombies. We weren’t even snowed in. Instead, my husband got to experience the wonderful serendipity that sometimes happens when you end up somewhere unexpected.

The aforementioned husband is a big Denzel Washington fan, and one of his favorite Denzel movies is The Book of Eli. In fact, he’d just watched it the night before our impromptu stop in Carrizozo. I, good librarian that I am, decided to read the Wikipedia entry for Carrizozo while we were stuck there. Wanna guess what movie was filmed in Carrizozo? If you said, The Book of Eli… ding ding ding! We have a winner.

So the next morning, we drove just about every street in town, while the husband took pictures and exclaimed over each place that appears in the movie. Not having seen The Book of Eli, I just took pictures:

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Looks like a good setting for a zombie apocalypse, no?

Just outside of town, we got to enjoy the contrast inherent in a snow-covered desert:

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I hope you’ll join me once more for the last leg of our journey, in which the husband gets to visit another entertainment landmark–Walter White’s house–and I sit on a cliffside on a cold winter morning.

Winter Break road trip episode 3: Roswell, NM

2019-12-28 14.58.32_cropped.jpgAt the end of the second episode, Winter Break road trip episode 2: Alamogordo to Carlsbad Caverns, your intrepid blogger had survived a trip 800 feet beneath the surface of the earth. Your intrepid blogger emerged like Persephone in the spring to continue her desert odyssey with a search for alien life forms. Translated from pompous-ese (the native tongue of academics like me), hubs and I drove from Carlsbad to Roswell.

For those of you who don’t watch cheesy shows about UFOs, Roswell is the site of a rather famous crash. What crashed, you ask? According to the US Air Force, a weather balloon. But spoiler alert: you don’t see little statues of weather balloons in Roswell. Instead, you see these:


Bonus points if you can pick out which one of those beings is the alien.

Whether or not they actually crash landed outside Roswell back in 1947, those little green men have been mighty good for the Roswellian economy. You can’t walk ten feet in downtown Roswell without tripping over at least one of ‘em.

Hard to get in your daily word count when the tourists won’t stop staring at you.

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If Baby Yoda were made from old tires…

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Payday! Time to get some parts to fix the hyperdrive…

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And… I got nuthin’. Someone wanna caption this?

Even the city itself has embraced the town’s extraterrestrial legacy. Behold the lamp posts, complete with Santa hats for Christmas:

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So did aliens really crash land outside Roswell back in the 1940s? No clue. But if they did, they could make a fortune taking selfies with tourists.